Recently, I was in Antigua, Guatemala gathered with all of the iLEAP Central America fellows. We shared stories, joys, triumphs, struggles, but mostly HOPE. Yes, hope is one of the countless intangible things I’ve got from my experience with the iLEAP program, but how do you explain it? Where do you find the right words to describe the journey this program takes you to?
For sure is always easier to explain –especially to donors– that you’re building a school, a well in an isolated village, providing health services or donating school supplies and other things for impoverished children living in the Global South. Most people love concrete, countable, touchable things. They love to build, repair, save, fix stuff and problems… and of course, they also love numbers. Oh, yes, how much they love to count people and adding up revenues produced through some credit or entrepreneurial–business based– program, for example. In the mainstream criteria of aid, philanthropy, charity and all such things, quantity very often beats quality achievement.
Unfortunate, for me –and I suspect for everyone else– who have had the privilege of encountering with this unique program is not easy to put into limited words the impact it had on my life. I don’t think I could ever do it justice whenever someone asks me, “What’s iLEAP about? What did you learn from it?” You may think, “If you can’t explain it, you don’t understand it”. However, there are profound changes in life that cannot be reduced to a simple conceptualization or theory.
In my opinion, iLEAP provides a space for leaders to nurture hope, motivation, collaboration, commitment and vocation of service. That’s something you don’t usually find in a leadership training program –at least for me, this is the only one I know that focuses its energy on the shaping of a most needed leadership renewal, whose roots are based on a profound personal change. Many leadership programs are based on business approaches, a market oriented perspective that is intended to solve social problems, which are very often –if not most of the time– caused by the same economic paradigm ruling the world.
iLEAP gathers social leaders from around the world and creates connections among courageous people who dare to take leaps of faith and defy the unjust status quo. Those are the people who are often creating changes from the grassroots level and setting the foundations of revolutionary and real positive change. It’s not about showing off your leadership skills or being on the spotlight. It’s about knowing who you are, what you want, where you’re heading to and about true listening. This also takes you to an inevitable question: you want to create positive change, but for whom? Depending on how you answer it could mean you’ll be swimming against the current or with it. Because I’m not sure if the term positive change itself explains the preferential option for the poor and the excluded you –most likely– have taken.
While in Guatemala, iLEAP fellows shared what the program was like for them. Many words such as freedom, overcoming insecurities, strength, energy, tools, big family and opportunities filled the air. I couldn’t help thinking about how I would explain the transforming power it had over people’s lives. iLEAP provides tools and skills to improve the work everyone is doing towards the achievement of positive change in their communities. Alright, this is not so complicated to explain, you received and processed some information you can later apply back home, like how to make a digital story, for example…. Hmmm how about making the case for the invisible changes happening inside of you? How about feeling so caressed by the kindness of iLEAP founders, Britt and Izumi? Yeah, they have the ability to bring up the best of you and make you shine, just like the Pygmalion effect.
And how about letting people know that being part of the program is like finding a creek in the middle of a desert of disenchantment, tiredness and hopelessness? It’s a place to re-energize your batteries. Leaders are always serving and taking care of others, but who is taking care of them?
If no one focuses on feeding and thoughtfully igniting the emergence of a new generation of committed and passionate leaders, then, how would you expect [positive] social changes to happen? iLEAP helps refocusing leaders’ visions, but most importantly, it helps you confirm your leader’s essence and renew your sense of commitment. How do I tell you that I returned from Seattle with unexpected gifts hidden in my suitcase, hope and confidence? Isn’t hope enough? I read somewhere that hope is the greatest gift you can give to someone… not to mention the meaningful bonding my heart tightened.
HOPE fuels life.
Currently a Program Associate at iLEAP, i have had the honors to not only learn various leaderships skills and personal development strategies, but have equally participated in the organizations’ various programs that boasts diverse cultural experiences and innovative projects. The latest trip brought me down to the East Coast, to attend a two week UN Women conference organized by the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
Growing up as a young girl in Kenya, i witnessed many girls miss the opportunity to go to school hence had their dreams crushed. I was fortunate enough to go school myself and get empowered and because of this i have been constantly aiming at becoming an empowered female leader in my society who will in return go back to support the girl child in my own community and help empower them to becoming the future leaders. iLEAP has by far helped me realized my dreams by modelling me into a better leader. When an opportunity for a United Nations conference came through, they gave their utmost support to enable me attend the same and become even more empowered.
I had a chance to attend the NGO CSW forum conversation circles on various topics among them Human Rights, Sustainable Development Peace and Security/Violence Against Women. My biggest breakthrough was when i attended the NGO Regional Caucuses (Africa, Latin America/Caribbean and Asia/Pacific, and got the chance to give three different presentations on various occasions. The opportunity to network with diverse groups of women leaders from all around the globe was heartwarming and quite a learning experience too. On March 8th, the United Nations Women for Peace organized an event called March on March 8th. I participated on this event and it was fascinating seeing hundreds of women and men from different nations and cultures march on a cold snowy Friday afternoon in the new York streets in the hopes of ending violence against women. Among the participants was the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, who i was fortunate enough to meet and share some insight.
It was an honor meeting Era Espana, one of iLEAP’s graduates from the ’10 International Fellowship program. We had such great conversations and two years after her graduation from iLEAP she still remembered vividly her experience while in the program. What really stood out for her was the sense of community and the diverse skills fellows had from various backgrounds and cultures. Above all, the fact that there were people out there trying to make the world a better place in the smallest way possible they could is one memory she has never let go.
She took away with her the sense of teamwork from the program and that she says has been the biggest gift in her work since she works with indigenous people and the ability to engage them all and get their pieces of mind has been crucial. Her participation in the program two years ago has by far altered her work in her community to the leader she is today. She is currently the tribal chief of the Indigenous tribes in her community back in the Philippines. She works with both men and women in trying to end violence against women by organizing a native gathering and working on various community projects together. As the tribal chief, she is their critical thinker. She advocates and integrates the best policies hence documents them for future references.
From the CSW57 conference, she hopes to reach out to the international community and spread the gospel on the importance of protecting the local indigenous people and by supporting their cultural practices and ending violence of whatever nature. I asked her what her community members were expecting from her once she returned to the Philippines and she gave me a broad smile and said, “a lot” She however said she is hoping to execute all that she learned at the conference at her community through formal and informal means of education and to equally share all the networks she will have established.
The conference officially ends today March 15th 2013. It has been such a great eye opener and has enabled me to learn a lot more on international women issues, network extensively and share my stories with the international audience. I am taking away a lot with me back to Seattle and i hope to share with iLEAP all that i learned from the conference, the greatest of them all, the importance of empowering a female leader.
Looking back on SIFJ 2013:
As one of iLEAP’s three major programs, the SIFJ took up a lot of time and energy for everyone in the office. It was my first opportunity to meet and interact with international iLEAP participants. I had the opportunity to attend and help run support for the event—shifting my duties from data entry/research to event support.
The events I attended and assisted with were an iLEAP public event at Wing Luke Museum in the international district kicking off the SIFJ, and the iLEAP potluck concluding the SIFJ. I learned a lot about the SIFJ delegates at the Wing Luke museum and was blown away by the diversity of skills, interests and personality amongst them all.
I was really inspired by each delegate but due to limited time, translators and some language barriers, I personally interacted with only with four of the eight delegates but I was still able to hear each delegate’s story when they shared opening night.
Some of the delegates I had the opportunity to talk with were:
Kana Kawaguchi, a now twenty-two year old woman who at fourteen years old defied her parents’ expectation and rules of not interacting with people without a home and went on to found an organization known as Homedoor, which promotes job creation and opportunity for homeless individuals. I admire Kana’s defiance, fearlessness and her sincerity. We talked about how her parents’ disapproval influenced her desire to interact with the homeless in Japan but that the Homedoor project came about after her original interactions led to deeper relationships with those individuals. Unfortunately I did not get to hear much more about Kana but was nonetheless impressed and inspired by her commitment and vision.
Takamasa Matsuura who is CEO of an organization called Beat Blast utilized the power of art to inspire others. With his work rooted in music as a means for change and leadership, Beat Blast really resonated with me due to my deep believe in music as a powerful tool for change for everyone but especially for young people. Blast Beat is a program offering teenagers the opportunity to learn about music, music marketing and leadership and self-development. Takamasa demonstrated the power of his work by showing “before” slides of high school students in Japan who were anti-social and disconnected from society but then later shifted to be engaged, social and inspired young people, willing and enthusiastic to contribute to society.
As with most introductions to people and event,s I walked away with a piqued interest and questions about the work iLEAP and the SIIFJ delegates do. Thankfully, iLEAP’s programs run often enough that I continue to be involved in and introduced to delegates and fellow’s as they spend time with iLEAP Seattle.
Right now, the March program is focused on Japanese college-aged leaders Social Innovation in Seattle (SIIS) is occurring and yet again, I’ve meet amazing young adults who are inspiring and motivated. I’ll report back on the “who’s who” and the “what do they do” shortly!